Disclaimer/warning: Standard disclaimers apply; I've made no money on borrowed lives. As it is a post-War story, there is reference to character death in past tense. There are implications of adult slash toward the end.

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The school had been closed shortly after the end of the war. Dumbledore was dead and McGonagall was left a broken woman—Voldemort had been unkind to her and she never quite recovered from Albus' death. It had been a major target, of course, and if Tom Riddle had ever had any lingering attachment to the place that had molded him, he'd expressed it by destroying half of the castle.

For several years, the wizarding children were sent out of the country to be schooled. Beauxbatons was a surprisingly popular location, and something that always put a sneer on Snape's face. The French Potions Mistress had a particular fondness for altering perfectly successful formulae until they produced a product both tasty and appealing to the eye. Snape considered it pointless frippery and refused to have anything further to do with the woman. He pitied the children.

The Ministry, perhaps as a bone thrown at a man whose life has already been destroyed, offered him a position in research. They could not, they said apologetically, afford to pay him well—they had to focus costs on rebuilding, on moving an educational facility back into England. He had raised a lone brow and inquired politely if they had any idea what a teacher's salary entailed, exactly? At least Albus had given his staff room and board and paid for any of the accoutrements required by their lessons. His family had been rich enough and his father had managed to die without any other living heirs; he declined the offer. Snape had never been fond of the Ministry.

Teaching had been out of a desire to pass on knowledge, though he knew he was far too impatient and far too much of an elitist to truly goad the average child toward a love of learning. Even his Slytherins were wholly depressing as the years passed. Bred by their parents to be pawns in their own political machinations, they lacked any talent beyond that of being an appropriate toady. He found it disgusting, but favored them still because he felt he should. None of the other teachers were Slytherins, after all, and one must protect their own. It was, among other things, a house rule.

The idea that there was no longer such a thing as a Slytherin House made his hand tense on the glass. He forced his fingers to relax. Snape had heard that the Sorting Hat was lost in the rubble, though there were rumors that McGonagall had been seen running from the fire that slowly consumed Dumbledore's office with it clutched beneath her arm. Snape thought it pointless, but yet where would any of them be without the damned hat? How many of the Gryffindors turned and fought because they were told they were brave? How many Slytherins survived solely because they were told that was what Slytherins do? There were, unfortunately, not many left of either.

In the end, he did the only logical thing: he opened a shop named Artemisia Absinthium on the edge of Diagon Alley, and was perpetually amused when he arrived each morning. Severus Snape: Purveyor of Fine Potions Ingredients. He refused to have business cards made, but they turned up one day regardless. He was less annoyed when he realized there was a bulbous beaker in the upper corner filled with what appeared to be wormwood oil. Someone else got the joke.

His name was well known, and if he had a reputation for being harsh and particular, at least his customers would know they would not be sold shoddy products. He brewed the pre-made potions for sale himself, and specialty preparations could always be negotiated for a price. Snape took a quiet pleasure in charging Lupin every month. He was, unfortunately, too kind-hearted toward the plight of the werewolf to charge him what the potion was worth, but Lupin didn't know that and likely assumed Snape was milking him for every last knut. He had always had a deplorable soft spot for outcasts, having been one himself.

He was, in fact, waiting for the first half of the Wolfsbane potion to congeal in his back room. He rarely took a break while working, but the thing would be sitting for at least an hour and it was teatime besides.

Tea today was half of a blueberry scone, left from breakfast, and a pot of decidedly lackluster earl grey. The scone crumbled irritatingly on the lap of his robes, dusting his knees with a shameful snowfall of icing sugar. There was a witch who owned a small bakery that he passed each day; she seemed to have taken a certain fancy to him and his scones were always doused with a far more liberal portion of the powdery mess than those of her other patrons. He could not quite find it within himself to feel annoyed, despite the current state of his clothing: the scones were quite a bit better than the ones the house elves created at home.

Or what had been home, he supposed. The elves, bound to the castle, had likely perished. Pity, really. Dobby made a fine birthday cake.

The bell rung on the shop door and a small crystal globe on his desk lit itself from within, displaying a picture of the foyer. Lupin was early. He twisted a battered old brown hat in his hands, shifting his weight from one foot to another. Lupin had never been a patient man.

Snape sighed, abandoning his tea and rose from his perch in an alcove. "The potion will be hours, yet," he said irritably. "Surely, you can wait that long."

Lupin turned toward him, having already mutilated the hat into a shapeless mass of fabric. Against his will, Lupin's lips twitched. "Erm, Severus . . ."

"Yes, Remus?"

"What has happened to the front of your robe?"

"Icing sugar, Remus. A man should be allowed to enjoy a confection in the privacy of his own workroom, do you not agree? I was hardly prepared for company; perhaps you did not see that rather impressive sign marked 'Closed' darkening my doorstep."

"I did. In fact, I was forced to slide my hand directly beneath it to find the door handle. Surely that must make it difficult for your customers to reach you, having to lift that heavy sign."

"But, as always, you take no heed."

Lupin pulled a clinking bag from one of his pockets and placed it on the low counter ringed by Snape's displays. "I trust the amount remains the same?"

"Unless there has been a hitherto unforeseen increase in werewolf activity that I am as yet unaware of, which has thereby necessitated the rationing of wolfsbane, no, Lupin, it is the same as it has always been."

Lupin's smirk faded somewhere, cutting sad lines into his cheeks. "It was free when I was a teacher," he said gently. "But we've never been friends, have we, Severus?"

"I don't have friends."

"Voldemort is dead—perhaps for good, this time. You could afford the risk, now. You've become rather well-respected, despite your attempts to the contrary. Perhaps you have found the recognition you've always sought."

"And what, precisely, would you know of what I seek?"

Again, his mouth twitched. "You're a Slytherin, Severus. It's what you do. Would it kill you, these days, to get out more?"

"Are you asking me for a date, werewolf? And here I'd been dwelling under the misapprehension that your tolerance for me was largely due to my singular ability to prevent you from becoming a raving madman each month."

"No—I wouldn't consider such a thing, but Harry and I wouldn't turn you out if you came to visit once in a while."

"Pardon?"

Lupin opened his mouth, shut it, and sighed. "Must you always be so difficult? It's a dinner invitation; it doesn't mean anything, except that the world's fallen down all around us and I think we should—the few of us that have survived—stick together."

"The famous Gryffindor loyalty: how heartwarming, Remus."

"Don't be a prat. How does Saturday sound?"

"I've plans."

"What plans? Lurk darkly in your storeroom? Stare with morbid fascination into your cauldron? Severus, really, when was the last time you had plans?"

Snape refused to consider it. "I have to stir the potion," he said. "It is very precise; else it turns into something not unlike pumpkin juice that's sat for a fortnight."

Frustrated, Lupin spread his hands on the counter on either side of the small bag. "You have to stir the potion every day between now and next Saturday? I bloody well hope not—the full moon is on Wednesday."

"I have to stir the potion now, Remus. Please remove yourself from my path." Snape frowned severely, moving around the counter at full speed. If Lupin didn't move . . .

"Harry wants to learn how to make it," Lupin said quickly, shifting his feet in an almost dance-like pattern to avoid being overrun by Snape. He spoke to the sharp angles of Snape's receding back: "He said he's tired of our having to trouble you every month, and certainly the shop's doing well enough to not need my paltry contribution."

Snape paused in the archway, spine stiff. He threw the words over his shoulder, the tone cold and brittle. "So the truth comes out, does it? This offer of—what, precisely? Friendship? Is only a very small disguise for what you and Potter want from me. At least James was honest."

Entering his workroom, he picked up a long wooden ladle (certain organic potions demanded organic utensils; most potions wanted stirring with stone or metal—it had been a favorite essay topic of his for the seventh years). Inserting it in the potion, he stirred slowly, lifting evenly from the bottom. The potion was thick. He'd nearly dawdled too long with Lupin. He stirred until the consistency was even, until the skin that had begun to form on the top had been broken and reabsorbed in the liquid. The potion, at this stage, had always made him think of a particularly nasty pudding.

He heard Lupin standing awkwardly on the edge of the room, fidgeting with his clothing and his hat. There were no seats in the workroom and Snape felt rather appalled overall at the man's temerity. He would not be conjuring one. The only noise in the room was the bubble of the potion and the occasional scrape of the spoon as he removed the more stubborn bits of the potion from the sides of the cauldron.

"We—he—I—we're not trying to use you, Severus," Lupin said when the silence was too much to bear. "We wouldn't do that."

"Wouldn't you? What have you been doing since Albus instructed me to—fulfill your needs on a monthly bases with this?" He held up the spoon, the potion falling back into the cauldron with a glop. "Have you any idea what I could have been doing then, during the war, when I had to spend days researching, and entire nights in my workroom there preparing, grounding, powdering, blending? Perhaps it would have been different if I hadn't spent so much of my bloody time tending to what Albus thought I ought to be doing, rather than what I knew I should? In the very end, he is dead, and you and I, werewolf, are standing in my shop discussing dinner plans while I make your damnable potion again."

"Harry wanted me to ask. I wouldn't have, if he hadn't begged me. He said he wasn't capable of understanding it from the books and that you'd never left any notes, of course—"

"Oh, I left notes, Lupin. I've carefully documented every experimental preparation I've made and the vast majority of the ones I've made thousands of times. There was a book, somewhere, of every single Pepper-Up potion I made for Poppy. The notes were, of course, in the school when someone thought it was a marvelous idea to incinerate it." Snape returned to scraping with a more determined air than was strictly necessary. The cauldron was expensive; the catalogue said nothing would stick to it.

Lupin forged ahead undaunted. Bloody Gryffindors. "—never left any notes that we could find and he thought that since you'd been such a fantastic teacher you might be willing to be bribed somehow to come and tell him how to do it properly. He thought the lack of—further annoyance might be enough to convince you, but said he'd be willing to try to pay you for your time if it wouldn't be. He is a good cook, you know."

"His skills in my classroom would not have led me to believe that the boy was capable of mixing up a pie without something exploding, much less a potion as complex as Wolfsbane."

"How can I convince you to let him try? It's very important to him. He's lost everyone he cares about . . . he's afraid of losing me, too." Lupin turned his face, frowning, and shoved his hat back on his head.

The potion was ready for the next round of ingredients. He sorted through the small glass vials on the table beside the cauldron and began adding them in careful sequence, murmuring incantations under his breath. When the surface of the potion shimmered and turned burgundy, he asked, "Is Potter unaware of the typically short lifespan of werewolves?"

Lupin refused to look at him, preferring instead to wind his arms defensively around himself. "He thinks the documented cases were largely untreated. He seems to believe I will stand a fairly good chance of living out an ordinary human lifespan if I'm dosed every month, without fail."

"I see. And are you so financially desperate that he must learn to make it himself rather than relying on me?" If the boy did attempt to make it himself, it would cost three times as much. Snape checked a sigh and began stirring the potion counterclockwise. They simply did not understand his attempts at being nice.

"Well, yes," Lupin said awkwardly. "We thought you would be charging a—a service fee, labor, a charge for your time . . ."

"Ah, and you believe Wolfsbane is so expensive because I am a tight-arsed miser?" The burgundy shade of the potion had begun to acquire swirls of bluish grey and the entire mass of it was rapidly liquefying into a much thinner consistency. "I see, Lupin. Tell him to check the market value on the ingredients alone, and then make his assumptions."

Lupin made a strangled noise of frustration then fumbled with the door handle; it had spell-locked automatically, of course. Out of the corner of his eye, Snape watched Lupin toy with it for a moment. A blush had begun on Lupin's face and had managed to work its way around to the back of the man's neck and the tops of his ears before Snape cleared his throat.

"Remus. Has the notion of Alohomora escaped you?"

"They took my wand," he said tightly.

Snape was stunned. "Who did?"

"The Ministry. Why do you think I live with Harry? I have to have a guardian." Lupin hit the door with his fist. The full moon was in two days. He was already overly emotional. Snape was mildly disgusted by the display.

The potion was spinning on its own in the cauldron, creating a small whirlpool in the center. It had become entirely blue-grey now. It needed to sit for twenty-seven minutes at a constant temperature. He adjusted the flame beneath it accordingly. Tapping the vials with his wand, he sent them across the room to the sink. The larger containers were returned to their places on the walls.

"When was that decision passed down?" Snape asked, satisfied that the room was as tidy as it could be for the moment. "Ah—you're classified as a 'dark creature' now, aren't you? The vampires aren't doing so well now, either, I hear. Did they refuse to take note of your own efforts during the war?"

"No, they didn't care," Lupin said mournfully. "Will you let me out, then?"

Snape found himself wondering how someone could become so accustomed to humiliation that it ceased to gall. He crossed the room and set his hand on the door, the wards unlocking at his touch with an audible click. It had always entertained him to blend muggle ideas and wizarding practicality.

"Saturday," Snape said. "I suppose I will try, but inform Potter that I will not be pleased if he attempts to poison me."

Lupin escaped through a crack in the door. He was too thin to occupy much space.

Potter would melt the cauldrons, burn himself, turn his foot purple, waste all of their limited funds on supplies . . . this was ludicrous. Snape took out a fresh sheet of parchment and began writing very clear notes on the making of Wolfsbane.

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Potter came himself to collect the potion the next day. Snape had bottled it very carefully for transport, filling three glass jars with the potion and capping them with metal lids. The potion looked very innocuous sitting on the counter. Prior experimentation had proven that it would eat through wood or cork at this stage. In the beginning, he'd known it was done when it consumed his stirring spoon.

Snape was forced to snap at him when Potter attempted to gather the potions into his arms and sent the bottles clinking against one another. Rising from his seat at the small table, he snarled until Potter set them back down on the counter and moved away. Snape wrapped them carefully in thick leather and bundled them together into a bag to facilitate carrying.

Potter muttered apologies and took the bag in his arms. Snape went behind him to usher him out the door, nearly shooing Potter into the street. He had almost succeeded when Potter felt the need to open his mouth: "You are coming on Saturday, aren't you?"

He blocked the opening to the shop with his body, preventing Potter from manufacturing some idea that the two of them should have any sort of chat. "I am a man of my word, Potter. I will hardly come earlier in the week. Despite my utter faith in my creations, being around a rabid werewolf is not my idea of a good time."

"He's not rabid," Potter said, hitching the bag higher onto his hip. Snape sighed and flicked his wand, transfiguring the bag into something with carrying handles. The boy had turned into a man with lines of silver in his hair, and he still had never realized that simple problems required simple solutions. Perhaps he was too stubborn to bother solving them, but Snape was damned if he would let half a week's worth of work tumble out onto the stoop. The glass was hardly shatterproof. There was no 'backup supply' of Wolfsbane. It was far too painstaking.

"He is rabid enough for me," Snape said evenly, allowing the door to close behind them. He pulled a scroll case from his robes, deploring the idea of doing business in the street but so decidedly against the idea of serving Potter tea that he felt he had no alternative. "Remus mentioned to me that you intended to learn how to brew Wolfsbane yourself, despite the complexity of the potion."

Potter winced. No, no such thing as subtlety here.

Snape pitched his voice low enough to carry only to Potter's ears. He steadfastly ignored the foot traffic in the area, as well as the witch wearing a hat covered in plastic fruit pushing a wheelbarrow. "He commented on my lack of available notes, and while I hadn't realized you'd gone pawing through the remains of my former storeroom, I found myself sufficiently irritated by the idea that I document my creations poorly. I've taken the liberty of assembling some notes written on a level I am certain even you can comprehend, Potter, for you to read over and attempt to apply by the time I arrive on Saturday. If you have been successful, do try to bring the potion to the delta stage, outlined on page thirty-seven, and I will instruct you through the more difficult phases following. If you demonstrate the sort of ability you showed in my classroom, I would merely suggest refraining from burning down Lupin's house. The man has suffered enough without your destroying all of his worldly possessions."

"You wrote notes?" Potter said dumbly.

Snape tucked the case into the top of the sack. "At least the attempt will keep you occupied. Did he pass along my message for you regarding the availability and costs of quality potions ingredients?"

Potter looked uncomfortable. "We didn't...even know what was in it, not all of it. The recipes in the books I could get didn't produce anything like what you were making for him and we were afraid to risk trying it on the full moon."

"Likely a good thing. I made a number of specific adjustments given his position at the school at the time, the likelihood that he would be exposed to extremely vulnerable children—some of whom may have been menstruating at the—oh, come off it, Potter. You've been through a war and you're going to go squeamish at the mention of menstruation? His senses are extremely heightened near his transformation, for three days prior and following it, and all animals respond to the scent of menses. As I was saying, I adjusted the potion quite a bit to allow for the additional stimuli. Mixing the two potions might nullify the effect of both of them...hm," Snape trailed off thoughtfully, comparing the two and extrapolating on the perceived potential results.

"Erm," Potter said.

"Yes, yes, run along." Snape waved a hand vaguely at the street, steering Potter toward the stairs. "Don't be an idiot, Potter," he added.

"How was I . . . ? Right. Mixing things. Experimenting." Potter shook his head and stepped off the last stair. "You haven't changed much."

"On the contrary," Snape said wryly, "I am now Severus Snape: Purveyor of Fine Potions Ingredients. Not Severus Snape: Potions Master of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry."

Potter shook his head. "You're still the same old Snape: Greasy Bastard."

Snape laughed suddenly, shortly. "I assure you, Potter, my parents were properly married."

"I'm sure they were."

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Snape observed the moon because he thought wizards were fools when they did not. He watched it begin to wane through his bedroom window. Despite his inherent ability to align himself to the currents of the natural world, he found he enjoyed viewing the phenomena as it occurred. Any wizard worth his wand should be more than efficient at casting a spell regardless of the astrological alignments of the sky, but it did add occasional weight to potion preparation and herb gathering. Sprout had taught it to her more advanced students; the less intelligent ones had never wondered why mistletoe ought to be had under the full moon. He'd been fond of Sprout in an odd way. Overbearing and sloppy and fat, she nonetheless reminded him of what someone's mother should have been. Perhaps that had explained Longbottom's affection.

The following afternoon, he was meant to have this ludicrous dinner with the Gryffindor Duo. He considered the mess Potter had likely made in whatever potions facility he had managed to concoct on such short notice and nearly winced at the idea that Potter might be doing this over the range. He rose from his perch at the window and went to gather his cloak and boots. No time like the present to make preparations.

Locking the door behind him, he began the leisurely stroll that would shortly take him to his shop door. Unlike many people, he refused to live above it, preferring to use that space for herb drying and storage. The shop more than paid for itself; he did not mind the additional expense of maintaining an external living space.

It was shortly after midnight and the streets were all but deserted. A pair of witches giggled, leaning on one another, after emerging from a bar. Both of them were in their thirties and were rather startlingly drunk. They pointed at his billowing cloak and snickered together, whispering.

"'s anyone tol' you, you look like a bloody great bird in that thing?" one of them said, raising her voice to carry across the street.

"Caw," he said indulgently, bowing at the waist.

She blinked, owlish behind her large spectacles, and collapsed against the building. Her friend dragged her down to the ground when she could no longer stand.

Snape considered a career change. Severus Snape: Comedian. No.

Arriving at his door, he unlocked the door with a large silver key. An owl sat on his lamppost, hooting quietly. It shook its feathers and held out its foot.

"I can't reach that," he said. "You'll have to come down." The owl cocked its head and then, flapping its large wings, resettled itself on the stair banister. It resumed its position of offering. Snape tsk'd and removed the letter, fishing in a pocket for an owl treat. He tossed it to the owl and entered his shop, leaving the owl on the stoop. There was no place for a bird inside.

Snape twitched his wand and lit the candles arranged around the room atop counters and tables. A soft yellow light filled the space, casting interesting shadows on the vials. It had taken him nearly a week to get the effect precisely correct. He was still proud of it, now.

He cracked the seal on the letter and sat at his table, unfurling the parchment to read.

Severus,

I hope you recall our dinner engagement.
Harry's made great progress thanks to your notes.
The cauldron's not melting nearly as often and
the house doesn't smell like sulphur anymore. He
wants to know if you prefer chicken or fish, and
whether you drink wine?

—Remus

He snorted and called his quill to him, fetching paper to write a reply.

Remus,

If you wished to ensure that I could not possibly
turn down your invitation, the notion that Potter
has been doing nothing but wasting his ingredients,
cauldrons, and time attempting to decipher my
notes is certainly an ideal way to accomplish it.

Fish would be fine, I suppose, though I typically
only consume red meat when I consume meat at all.
And, yes, I think I will require all of the alcohol
you can provide me with to suffer this evening with
my patience intact. If you insist on wine, I'll bring
the bottle myself. I can't imagine either of you have
anything approaching taste in the matter.

—SS.

The owl looked slightly put out to be sent with a letter at this time of night, but he snidely reminded it that it was a nocturnal beast. It hooted at him reproachfully and he frowned at it until he found another owl treat in his pocket.

Returning inside, he went to his storeroom and began to transfer the requirements of two successful brews of Wolfsbane into smaller containers that would be easier to shrink and travel with. He refused to consider taking anything more than that for Potter's clumsy fingers to ruin. Each item was reduced and stuffed into a black bag the size of his palm that he wore fastened to his belt. When the ingredients themselves were finished, he paused to consider his cauldron. It was ideal. He was fond of it. He couldn't stand the thought of Potter touching it. He rummaged in a storage chest instead, finding an older one with a nick around the lip that he could spare if something horrid happened despite his careful instruction. The wooden spoon was added last.

It occurred to him suddenly that he might be spending a very long time at Lupin's, if he were to teach Potter this entire process more than once. He did not wish to consider the option of returning at a later time to do it again—much better to get it over with.

He pulled a stack of books from his small library (the majority of his books, he kept at home) and began thumbing through them, searching for the assortment of recipes he had based his final method upon. Perhaps if Potter saw the process from the inside out, it might allow him to grasp more of the subtleties of why he substituted different varieties of several things, preferring the more far-flung rare ingredients over local alternatives. It was a precise art; potions in general had lost something when people began to value cheap, locally grown herbs over the true ones, grown in the proper native soil. Oh, certainly, someone could cart in a truckload of Argentinean soil, and enchant the light and humidity in the room to perfectly match the South American continent, but this seemed pointless and stupid, and more trouble than it was worth. In the end, there was still a difference between something grown in England with all sorts of ludicrous attempts at recreating a natural environment and something grown in and subjected to all the whims of its own mother nature. Also, someone had been taking a page out of the muggle book and a series of treatises on genetic engineering of wizarding plants had begun appearing with his regular mail half a year ago. He was suitably appalled and burned the papers before he had read half of them. He approved of grafting and the ordinary methods of hybridizing a plant, but to actually warp the genetic code of it? That rubbed him poorly.

Snape jotted notes and replicated pages from the books, taking an entire chapter out of one and rolled them together by subject. He shrunk them and placed them in the bag as well. At some point, he noticed it was past three in the morning and he opened the shop precisely at seven. Some people valued his early availability: they required things for their own workdays, which typically began between nine and ten in the morning in Diagon Alley. The bakery witch might miss him if he did not walk past, but she had likely grown accustomed to his occasional absences when he was embroiled in some research project or another. Shelving the books absently, he tied the black pouch closed and retired to the small bed he kept in the attic for the days when he worked through the night.

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"But the mediwtich says that I can't. She said she'd read about a reference to a potion in one of her books that might be able to help, and look here, I've brought the page, Mister Snape—surely you can take a look..." The woman blew her nose loudly, forcing the few other customers lurking in the shop at this time in the afternoon to turn their heads. They observed the altercation with interest.

His expression hardened. Snape snatched the fluttering piece of parchment from her bilious hands and held it aloft. It was, as were most things, written in Old English. His temper too frayed at the moment to manage the sort of pointless and ostentatious spelling wizards felt the need to make notations in until well into the twenty-first century, he barked a spell at it to translate it to the sort of shorthand he used himself. The words on the page squiggled and the lines of ingredients wavered, reforming into neat columns broken into steps.

The woman's shoulders slumped with relief when she saw his eyes begin to flick over the words, his brow furrowing in thought. When the silence had stretched to several minutes and his mouth had taken on a severe downturn, she said, hesitantly, "Erm . . . "

"This is rather risky, Mrs.—?"

"Miss Stevensburg."

"I see. Well, Miss Stevensburg, can you afford me?" He gestured toward his office door, murmuring a subtle anti-theft charm on the room as the left it. He trusted no one well enough to hire an assistant to keep watch on the store when he was occupied and there was a young couple still browsing the pre-brewed aphrodisiacs in the corner.

In comparison to his severe quarters at Hogwarts, his office to the side of the main display room was rather cozy. The chair his patrons had the option of taking was well stuffed and just battered enough to be comfortable. The woman circled it, movements belying anxiety, and came to rest with her hands on the heavily carved wooden top. He leaned against his desk and folded his arms patiently.

She pursed her lips, fumbling in the inner pockets of her robe for a jeweled pouch that had seen better days. "I've been to every doctor and mediwitch in England," she said. "Half of them wouldn't hear my case and the other half turned me away when they found out how it happened. I haven't much left, but—well, I know you don't work on charity, Mister Snape, but perhaps I could pay your fee over time if this isn't enough. I would be willing to sign a blood contract, if you think you can do it. You're..." She sighed. "My last hope."

His eyebrows lifted fractionally. Blood contracts were quite serious and very infrequently used these days, having been considered archaic shortly after Merlin's time. Upon a failure to render payment on a debt, he could claim her life as pay. "Oh, I'm certain I can brew it. It may even function as you desire," he said. The coins clinked as she began to count her remaining galleons. He adjusted his voice, attempting to gentle it. "But tell me: how did it happen? The cause has a great effect on the cure, oftentimes."

Her face was grim. "It was during the war...I was an auror, and we'd found a nest of upper level Death Eaters. I was pregnant and had only just found out about it—I might have been three months along. One of them...cursed me. We'd never heard the curse before—any of us—and we took it back to the Ministry, but they'd never heard of it, either, and despite all of the work they did over the course of the next year, a cure was never found. I was told that the curse...in addition to forcing me to miscarry on the spot withered my uterus. It resisted all magical attempts to repair it." She gave up on the counting and handed him the pouch. "Just tell me if that's enough, please, Mister Snape. I'm so tired of thinking about this."

He accepted the bag and tallied it with a glance, sifting through the coins for show. "It is very important to you that your child should be of your own flesh? This expense and the pain of all of the attempted cures seems more viable to you than adopting one of the many children orphaned in the war?" His eyes rose to rake across her tearstained face. He threw the bag on the table. The woman flinched. "Well?" he said.

"Yes. Yes, of course it's important to me—"she stammered.

"Return in a fortnight." He rose and placed a hand on the woman's waist, turning her and ushering her through the door. Snape could not understand why one child was not as good as another, but then he supposed he'd never had much of a paternal instinct.

He fished in his robes for his pocket watch—antique silver that he refused to use an anti-tarnishing charm on—the knob was a bit sticky and required attention every evening to wind properly. Taking note of the time, he frowned. Shutting the shop down early simply for a dinner engagement seemed to smack of sloppiness to him. With a thunderous look blooming on his features, he left the office and stalked into the main room. The aphrodisiac couple looked up at him sharply and carefully replaced a pink glass bottle with an alarming tinkle onto the small mirrored shelf. Snape had taught their parents.

He shuffled a sheaf of papers officiously and lifted an eyebrow in their direction. "I recommend the red one," Snape said.

Blushing furiously, the young man snatched it from the shelf and banged it too hard on the counter, fumbling for his purse. "How much?" he muttered. The woman leaned against his side, attempting to hide her face behind his shoulder.

Honestly. "Ten even," Snape said. He wrapped it well and slipped it into one of his paper sacks emblazoned with the shop's logo.

"How long will it, er..." the young man attempted. "Does it come with, er—instructions?"

Snape opened a cabinet, selected a similarly red folder (what's the use in not keeping things cohesive?) and withdrew a sheet of paper tastefully edged in filigreed ink. "Please ensure that you read the warnings at the end." He gestured toward the proper section. "It wouldn't...do to ignore them."

"Erm, well, thanks," the man said, laying his galleons on the counter and taking the bag and sheet hurriedly from Snape's outstretched hand. The woman made a disapproving noise, took the sheet from the man, and folded it, slipping it into the bag. The two turned and left the shop, banging the door shut behind them.

Snape felt fairly certain they would be back in another week for more.

The shop now blessedly empty, he began putting things in order: a wave of his wand straightened his shelves and flipped his sign to 'Closed'; he tallied the day's take, recording it into his ledger before placing the coins into their proper compartments in a sack that would be automatically transported to Gringott's and added to his business vault at the stroke of midnight. Not a bad day, all things considered. The barren witch's coins still sat on his desk and he paused thoughtfully before levitating them to his own in-house safe—it wouldn't be proper to keep her money if the potion failed, he supposed.

The benefit of a challenge should outweigh the expense on the occasional difficult to acquire ingredient. Perhaps he could post a summary in Allegory and Alchemy, the cutting edge potions journal that any self-respecting wizard with an inclination toward brewing both subscribed to and read voraciously. Snape had made the cover during his more youthful ventures before keeping Poppy armed with a steady supply of Skele-Grow drastically cut into the time he could spend in the laboratory. Solving the unsolvable mysterious Death Eater curse with a bit of the bubbly might be just the thing to reinstate him as a front page feature.

He fetched the bag containing the shrunken books and Wolfsbane ingredients, tucking it deftly into an inner pocket. Snape wondered idly if fine wine would be entirely lost on both Lupin and Potter and sighed. After several moments of mentally rummaging through his cellar, he decided to forego offering something from his own collection. While the idea was far more eloquent, innumerable years in Lupin's vicinity and the misfortune of schooling Potter left him with the impression that neither of them would understand the gesture well enough to appreciate it. Still, Silverio's had a reasonable selection and they were on the way. Lupin had not bothered to provide him with a portkey and Snape would be damned if he were going to floo into a dinner party like some common fool. Appearing drenched in soot was, contrary to popular belief, not the way to make an entrance. He would purchase it, apparate the majority of the distance, and walk the remainder of the way to Lupin's home.

Snape swirled his cloak around his shoulders and fastened the silver pin. His hat—a black Victorian topper—was lifted from the stand and perched on his head nearly as an afterthought.

Silverio's was located in an alcove on the northern edge of Diagon Alley. As the day had passed, a storm had begun to gather on the horizon. Thunderheads jostled one another out of the way, vying for position. Between the buildings, the sky was bruised. Snape had anti-weather charms cast on his cloak and boots, of course, but they could do with another renewal. Irritably glancing at the clouds, he quickened his pace. He disliked the idea of performing magic in the street.

Saturday afternoon was typically one of the busiest times for the majority of the folk in Diagon Alley. On an average weekend, witches and wizards would throng the taverns and the outdoor portions of the bistros. Even in winter, the traffic did not die down—they simply moved their meetings into the bookshops and gathered around tables with steaming mugs of tea to discuss the latest research developments or gossip in both the muggle and wizarding worlds alike. Snape particularly loathed quidditch weekends. Then, the entire area was transformed into a bobbing sea of team-appropriate colors and shrieking.

Despite the threat of what seemed to be torrential rain, there were knots of people under the building overhangs, comparing purchases and chattering. Snape sidestepped an array of little girls sucking at sweets and an assortment of teenage boys with pranks spilling from their Gambol and Japes bag. There were times when he regretted his loss of position as a professor, but these things often reassured him that he had certainly made the correct choice. Ultimately, he had no patience for children.

When he could at last escape from the noise in the streets by withdrawing into Silverio's, he felt a sense of relief. Yes, if he had continued with his life-long contract of service to Dumbledore, it would have no doubt been the end of his sanity. The bell that chimed upon his arrival was subdued. The man behind the counter smiled widely at Snape and set aside the book he had been reading. His starched white shirt and smart black vest were impeccable. It, however, did little to disguise that the man or one of his parents hadn't been even remotely human. Sharply pointed ears lifted the cap from his unruly mop of brown hair.

"Mister Snape," he said cheerfully, "I hadn't expected you before the next shipment from Tuscany came through."

"Cerino," Snape replied. "No, I haven't come for the reds I've ordered. In fact, I've been dragged from my workroom to attend to a dinner invitation and fulfill a plea from a former student that I prevent the further destruction of his living space by supplying tutorship."

"Ah, and I suppose you wouldn't want to waste anything from your personal collection on such a person," Cerino said, slipping down from his stool. He fished in a pocket for a key ring to unlock the glass shutters around the display cases.

"Precisely so. I was thinking of some sort of sauvignon blanc, but nothing too sweet—I'd rather only gag over the idea of what he's been doing in the name of potions than on the wine." Snape leaned against the counter, crossing his arms patiently.

"Very dry, then?"

"Like a bone. A terrible, bleached bone."

Cerino laughed and withdrew a bottle from the shelf, carrying it over with his short toddling step to hand it to Snape. "I take it you don't like him then?" he asked.

"I loathed him when he was a student. I can't say I believe the passage of time will have improved matters much." He turned the bottle over in his hands, reading the label. "This is your recommendation?"

"Dry as a bone, Mister Snape. You'll fancy it. I can't say your host will, however." Cerino hoisted himself back on his stool and removed a small notebook from beneath the counter. "Shall I add it to the monthly bill, or will this be a separate expense?"

"Add it on, of course."

Cerino took the bottle back from him and wrapped it properly. Snape refused to use a shrinking spell on something he intended to consume. He found it subtly altered the flavor, flattening it into something distasteful.

"Do you mind if I use your side room to apparate, Cerino?" Snape inquired, tucking the wrapped bottle beneath his arm. "You know how much I deplore making a spectacle of myself in public."

Cerino waved a hand, already absorbing himself once again in his book. "You're one of my best customers, Mister Snape. If you'd like to turn cartwheels in the side room, I wouldn't mind."

Snape forewent the cartwheels, whatever they were, and simply shut the door, composed himself and his belongings, and apparated directly onto the lane nearest Lupin's home. Similar to his dislike of the sudden, filthy nature of flooing, he disliked the idea of appearing without warning in someone's dining room, invitation or no. He checked the time on his pocket watch and glanced at the sky. The storm was staying on that side of London for the moment, thankfully.

Having been prevented from seeking employment, Lupin had taken to gardening to pass the time. The hillside approaching their home was dotted with flowers, carefully arranged to appear careless. Climbing roses tangled themselves in the stonework, marching over the side of the building and covering much of the front windows. The richly worked beds to either side of the door sported a wide variety of plants, all in hues of purple, blue, and gold. Snape felt a small surprise that Potter had never insisted on gardening in Gryffindor colors, but perhaps the memory of the lost House was too much for either of them.

When last Snape was here, Lupin had been very ill and the house was ramshackle. Since then, Potter had moved in, overseen Lupin's care and feeding, and apparently patched up the roof. A small blessing, that.

The smell of whatever Potter was intending to cook wafted through the open kitchen window. Snape frowned when he noted that it did seem appetizing. He knocked sharply on the door, ten minutes early, as per usual.

A rustle sounded behind the door, and the sort of noise one might expect to be caused by someone stumbling over an umbrella stand. The locks clicked and clicked again, sticking. Snape heard a muffled cursing through the thick oak. A disapproving frown settled over his face and he flicked his sleeve to release his wand. Honestly, how did the muggles manage without magic as well as they did if Lupin were entirely incapable of mastering the art of opening a door using a key and his fingers?

As he brought his wand into his hand to solve the issue, the door swung open. Lupin looked up at him miserably, hands held palm up in the helpless gesture that Snape remembered so well from their days in school together. Lupin had made much the same movement as his cohorts went about their tricks, and Snape found that it still annoyed him. Potter stood beside Lupin with one hand on the thin man's shoulder, murmuring platitudes.

"Will you remove yourself from the doorway, Potter, or shall I spend my evening after arriving at your behest on the stoop?" Snape inquired.

Potter turned to face him, frown meeting frown, and apparently bit back a retort. Lupin shuffled backward obediently; Potter held his arm in protective fashion. "The mechanism sticks," Potter said. "I've tried to have someone come out to replace it, but no one wants to drive out this far."

"One is forced to wonder why the charm of the wizarding world and his pet werewolf need a lock on the bloody door at all—"Snape crossed his arms, forestalling the protest "—but regardless, Potter, why haven't you used a bit of magic to mend it? Rather like your glasses when you were a child, you seem to forget that the line of reparo spells are easily to manipulated to fit any occasion—though admittedly this does assume that the door functioned properly at one point or another and that you are still capable casting a reparo class spell."

Lupin opened his mouth; Snape knit his brows together fiercely and thumped the doorframe with his wand. "Claustrum reparo," Snape said irritably. His eyebrow lifting marginally, he watched as flakes of rust gathered and drifted against his boot, spewed forth from the keyhole with a great shriek of abused metal. "Honestly, Potter, do try oiling things once in a while. I hear it's great fun." He swept past the two men into the small sitting room, depositing the bottle of wine onto a sideboard.

Potter stiffly returned to the kitchen while Lupin made an attempt to play the gracious host. "May I take your hat, Severus? Do have a seat," he offered, gesturing to one of the chairs covered with a brightly colored afghan. There was a smattering of ginger colored cat fur decorating the arm of the chair. A summary glance informed Snape that the entire room was largely decorated in appalling handmade fabric creations and ginger cat fur. The beast in question was nowhere to be found as of yet; he collapsed his hat silently and handed it to Lupin, who regarded it with a look of slight surprise before carefully laying it on the table nearest the door. The cloak followed and Snape soon found himself ensconced in cat flavored rustic joy. The afghan was a terrible mix of green, brown, and orange. Dropped stitches were evident in the pattern. Lupin was staring at him.

"You've taken up—weaving, Remus?" Snape had never been blessed with the gift of small talk, and Potter was making most alarming noises in the kitchen. He attempted to steer his mind away from the clanging. Resting his chin in his hand, he regarded Lupin without any interest whatsoever.

"Crocheting, actually." Lupin looked pleased. "That was one of my first completed projects. I've become rather a lot better these days. I've been making socks lately. If you like, I could—"

Snape was in hell. "Mm," he said, feigning a fascination he did not feel. At times such as this, he was forced to wonder how he succeeded so well at being a spy, though perhaps it was always less difficult to pretend to be captivated with world domination than it was, say, Lupin's prattling about crochet hooks and what sort of yarn Snape might like for proper foot décor.

"It's the least I could do, of course, after everything you've done for me over the years, Severus—" Lupin was saying.

The hours—days­—spent in the workroom poring over horrid tomes in Olde English, scouring the countryside for ingredients that no one bothered to carry any longer, ordering in and pleading with his man in China to resume shipping contraband powders across the borders—all of this somehow translated into handmade socks according to Mister Remus J. Lupin. Bloody Gryffindors. Bloody "I'm Susie Homemaker" Gryffindors with their bloody craft projects.

I am a house elf yearning to be free to this man, Snape thought.

"It's ready!" Potter's voice rang from the kitchen. Snape comforted himself with the idea that his current level of gratitude at being rescued from Lupin's ideas of couture would soon be ruptured by Potter's utter incompetence outside of a quidditch pitch.

-

-

-

"Have you a corkscrew, Potter?" Snape asked.

"Er, yeah." Potter heaved himself up out of his chair with the sort of stubbornly boyish grace of those who refuse to accept that age makes one older. He rummaged in a drawer until he produced a rusted twist of metal that Snape assumed must have at least begun its life as a corkscrew.

"Dare I ask what you've been doing with this?" Snape wondered aloud, taking it from his hand and peering at it. Lips pressed firmly together, he pushed what he believed was the pointed end into the cork and began to twist it.

Potter resumed his seat and began taking the lids from the dishes in the center of the table. The kitchen was small, but startlingly tidy given what had just occurred in it. Lupin's hand was visible in the autumn wreath above the fire. Snape avoided looking at it too long. The table was also fairly rustic, seeming to be little more than a slab of roughly hewn wood with legs. Most wizards had a lingering affection for the medieval; Snape found it tiresome, but it was too common to bother being overly offended. Potter served the food without dropping any of it. Snape was pleased to discover that there was asparagus.

Lupin exclaimed over the wine after it had been poured. Potter blinked at it, slightly taken aback. Snape savored.

Dinner was a surprisingly quiet affair, given the gregarious nature of at least one of the hosts. Potter handled his cutlery better than Snape would have surmised, and the fish was good: tender, flaky, and not over-seasoned. Lupin went at his dinner with enough excitement to remind Snape that the full moon cycle was only a day or so behind them. The transformations typically wearied Lupin and left him seeming thin and hollow, but several years under Potter's cooking had put sufficient meat on the man's bones that he did not look newly risen from the dead directly following the moon. The shadows beneath his eyes that were ever-present whilst Lupin taught at Hogwarts had faded to merely the purple tinge one might expect after a long night. Snape congratulated himself on the tweaking he had done over the last decade to the potion formula. While he cared very little, truly, for Lupin's state of health, it was not often that one so easily acquired a constantly willing test subject.

As an odd accompaniment to the meal, Potter decided to serve strawberry shortcake for dessert. He and Lupin fell upon it happily; Snape declined and refilled his own glass. He supposed the two of them must be rather happy, here in their tiny abode of domesticated bliss. Potter cooked, Lupin decorated, and despite adversity, the two of them seemed to have weathered the aftereffects of the war well enough.

"Is the shop doing well, Severus?" Lupin asked, scraping a bit of pink fluff from the rim of his plate and licking it from the spoon with relish.

"Well enough." Ah, small talk: the blessed silence evaporates suddenly.

"How do you compete with all of the other alchemists and herbalists in Diagon Alley, anyway?" Potter added. "Everyone I talk to when I'm there carries on about you, and you're going to run Terrimore & Co. out of business if you're not careful."

"That is the idea, is it not? Establishing a monopoly on quality service has long been considered the ideal way to do business. If my product is superior, should I then be forced to feel remorse that someone refuses offer Terrimore every last galleon for shoddy workmanship?" Snape said philosophically, swirling the wine in his glass.

"Well, yes, but they have families and workers, and people who depend on them—if you take away all of their business, what will they do to support themselves?" Potter protested.

"Why, Mister Potter, I had no idea you were such a champion for the working class," Snape rejoined. "All of this altruism, despite the fact that you have lived on the money your parents left in your coffers for your entire life. When have you ever needed to hold a job, or to do the slightest bit of dirty work beyond, that is, killing the Dark Lord and vanquishing him for all eternity?"

Potter raised himself halfway up from his chair, slapping his hands against the table. Glaring at Snape, he said, "That was completely uncalled for, and you know it. I'm not eleven years old any longer, Snape, and there's no reason why I should sit here—in my own home—and listen to you throw insults in my face."

With a clatter of silverware, Lupin gained his feet and gestured pleadingly between the two men. "Please, there's no reason to argue, either. I'm certain Severus doesn't like the implication that he is—is stealing from others, and we all know you've done far more for the wizarding world than simply destroy Voldemort, Harry." He placed his hands on his thin hips and looked down the line of his nose at them. "Honestly, haven't either of you grown out of this, yet? Severus, you're as bad as you were with James—well, both of you are. James could never stop provoking Severus, and Severus could never leave well enough alone."

"He started it!" Potter said. "From the moment I set foot in his class! I was minding my own business, and even copying down notes on the speech he was giving first day of class, when he decided he hated me because of my father and humiliated me in front of everyone!"

"You took notes on my speech?" Snape asked, dumbstruck.

"Yes! All of that nonsense about 'stopper death' and 'bottle fame'—rather interesting to a young boy desperate to prove himself, particularly one who'd spent most of his last eleven years being beaten and locked in a cupboard. If you could have taught me something then that would have—I don't know, made me feel like I was someone rather than Uncle Vernon's punching bag, I would have knelt down and kissed your filthy black boots, Snape."

"Why did you apply yourself so poorly to my lessons, then? You simply could not wait to get out of the dungeons."

Potter threw himself back into his chair with a thump. "Because you antagonized me all the bloody time. I have fame, and fortune, and arguably glory. I've avoided dying despite the best attempts of some of the most powerful witches and wizards in Britain. Presumably, I've succeeded at some of your aims, Snape, and I still try to brew things occasionally in my spare time—"

"Oh, what, when you're not otherwise fighting your way through throngs of your rabid fans?" Snape realized, at that moment, that he was approximately half a glass beyond his limit and as such, his wits were suffering.

"My fans?" Potter's mouth was a straight line etched into his face. "Haven't you read the Prophet since the war ended?"

"I've never seen much point in paying for that rag."

"Remus, would you bring me my book from the living room, please," Potter said flatly.

Lupin glanced at him, a question in his brown eyes. "Surely, Harry...not now," he murmured.

"I want my book," Potter repeated.

Snape folded his hands in his lap. He had read an article in one of his potions magazines regarding the post-traumatic stress the aurors suffered after the last battle. St. Mungo's was filled to the brim with raving witches and wizards whose minds were too fragile to comprehend the senseless destruction Voldemort had committed. A great deal of research and money was being thrown at the condition, searching for a magical remedy to restore them. Some of the muggle-born suggested therapy, an idea that most of the mediwitches scoffed at. In the end, the Ministry became bored with the project and mandated that those who could not be healed by time and rest would be kept heavily sedated.

Snape had refused to be a part of the project because he privately believed that the majority of PTSD victims really only needed a good slapping. Watching Potter's erratic behavior, and particularly when the book was presented—a photograph album filled with clippings from articles on the aftereffects of the war—strongly reminded him of some of the caseworkers' descriptions. Perhaps Potter needed a good slapping, also, or potentially sedation, or ideally: both.

He looked at the pages as Potter turned them. The passages Potter wanted most to remember were helpfully highlighted:

Boy Who Saves World: Too Little, Too Late?

Harry Potter, the famous Boy Who Lived, did indeed
live through the final confrontation with He Who Must
Not Be Named. However, the Boy Who Lived couldn't
promise the same for many of his schoolmates and
formerly beloved teachers at the school that nurtured
him for many years.

"I needed to know what I did, or sometimes what I didn't do for these people," Potter was saying. "So many families blamed me for everything... I received so many letters."

Snape surreptitiously moved the wine bottle out of Potter's reach after he paused in his tawdry monologue to throw back the rest of what was in his glass. One does not swig a bottle of wine that cost more than what some people made in a week. Snape's fingers ached to drum on the tabletop.

Lupin had reached across to take Potter's hand in sympathy, stroking Potter's callused skin in a display no doubt meant to be soothing. "It's just so hard, you know?" Potter added brokenly. Lupin repeated comforting statements regarding how proud James would have been of Potter's 'accomplishments.'

Snape loathed these touching family moments. Potter had been mollycoddled since the day the boy was taken from the muggles who raised him. Poor little Harry, mistreated by his family; poor little Harry, lost his mummy and daddy. Pat, pat, Harry, it will be all right. Well, welcome to the real world, Potter. People will die, your best will never be good enough, and there will always be someone who wants your blood.

He forced his jaw to unclench. "Shall we begin on your lesson, Potter, or would you rather continue to waste my time with your sniveling?"

"Severus, really," Lupin murmured.

"How many people did you lose, Snape? How many did you kill, and how many died in your name?" Potter asked coldly, having apparently pulled himself together in the interim. "What I want to know is how you managed to stay alive, despite playing secret agent man for Dumbledore the entire time? Why didn't Voldemort ever find out about you? Why didn't Voldemort kill your family, your friends, your lovers?"

"Oh, I see. You've altered your ire in the meantime from childish irritation toward a demanding teacher to some sort of sense of betrayal that I, of all people, had the audacity to both survive the war and sift through the ashes of my life until I was capable of fashioning it into a functional whole. Unlike your beloved Weasleys, who were broken and destitute after the Ministry decided it no longer required Arthur's assistance, and Harry bloody Potter who is far too busy being encircled by ghosts to cease feeling sorry for himself.

"Why, why, oh by the gods, why?" Snape mocked. "I will tell you why, Potter. I am a Slytherin; I have always been a Slytherin, and Slytherins do not sit down and whine because they haven't gotten their way."

"That fucking hat never wanted to put me in Gryffindor—"

"Bugger the hat, Potter." Snape's fists hit the table, temper fraying. "Yes, all of the staff knew that sordid little tale. You were afraid of what it meant to be Slytherin and you went down on your craven little knees and begged it for anything but the house that might possibly make something of you. Instead, you preferred to rot beneath petting and—gentleness." The last was spat across the table.

Potter was trembling with rage. Lupin glanced from one to the other and wiped his mouth fastidiously with a napkin. "I'll...just clear the dishes, shall I?" Lupin murmured. When he was roundly ignored, he gathered the knives and forks first then unobtrusively stacked the dishes and cleared the field of battle.

"What are you trying to say?" Potter continued hotly. "My father and Sirius—"

"—were nothing more than a pair of childish and abusive bullies. At least your father largely grew out of it by the time you were born, thankfully, due to your mother's influence, but Black certainly never did. Your understanding of his most questionable heroics is a bit faulty, I might presume—"

"You would have put him back in Azkaban if you could have! You, of all people! You had to know about Pettigrew. You were supposed to be a spy. Don't you think that's the sort of thing you were supposed to be finding out about? You know: death and destruction?"

"Your knowledge of my 'job' is sorely lacking," Snape said quietly. "Might I remind you that all of this happened directly after your initial altercation with Voldemort? It wasn't a sanctioned action, Potter."

Snape began to remove the shrunken bags of supplies from his pouch and created a small pile of velvet on the tabletop before him. "I've brought you proper ingredients, the correct spoon for stirring, and a sheaf of additional notes. I've taken the liberty of reproducing certain passages from my research books that may help you. Also, here is a treatise on brewing difficult potions written by my former professor that I found particularly useful when I was younger. It may reduce your anticipated area of effect should something go amiss."

"What?" Potter said dumbly. Snape was reversing the incantations and stacking scrolls and small sacks of herbs and powders in an orderly fashion on the table. Each little sack was clearly labeled with both the common name and Latin name of the ingredient. "What?" he repeated.

Finished, Snape sat back in his chair. He rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I've taught ill-mannered, thankless, and utterly disrespectful individuals longer than you have been alive, Potter, and now I am in...retail."

"So you're saying you miss being livid on a daily basis?"

"Perhaps."

"You've changed," Potter said softly.

"I've gotten old."

"You really want to teach me?"

"Approximately as much as I want to jab myself in the eye, but I've agreed to do so and I can't stand to watch you continue to desecrate my art with your attempts."

"Do you want to do it tonight?" Potter's suddenly contrite tone abraded Snape's already raw nerves.

"Not particularly," he replied tightly.

"Stalemate," Lupin observed from the kitchen doorway.

-

-

-

In the early afternoon, an owl tapped on the shop window. Traffic had been light that day; it was apparently a holiday in the muggle world and some wizards used their holidays as an excuse to take the day off. Since the war, more people had been spending their time incognito in London, mixing with the muggles. The pureblood families had been ravaged by the destruction of the Death Eater ranks and there was a proclamation issued by the Ministry that stated hate crimes and the desperate fear that had kept the veil between the two worlds thick must be abolished. Inbreeding would destroy the rest of the wizarding stock, and it needed mixing with outside genes. Snape, pureblooded since time immemorial, was vaguely disgusted by the idea. Regardless, it meant that muggle holiday days saw Diagon Alley nearly empty.

The ill-mannered owl demanded a treat before it would relinquish its letter. Snape huffed and fished for one in his pockets, but finding none, he was forced to pry open the glass jar beneath his counter full of them.

Potter's handwriting had not improved from the barely legible scratching he filled his potions essays with while in school.

Dear smudge of ink Mister Snape,

Snape rolled his eyes.

I wanted to apologize for my behavior Saturday night. Remus has told me that it was pretty bad.

"Ten points for understatement," Snape said.

Earlier in the afternoon, I received an owl from
Ginny. Her son smudge of ink was kidnapped
on the way home from school. Some people
thought it might be an act of revenge because
there had been rumors that the child was mine.

I was upset, and I know that's not an excuse, but
I felt I should tell you why. If you don't want to
do the potion thing—

"Potion thing?"

—I'll understand. I'm sorry, again.

—H. Potter.

Snape crumpled the letter and threw it against the wall. It bounced and he ignited it in midair, consuming the thin parchment before it reached the ground.

He hoped Potter had a hangover.

Snape summoned his writing utensils and penned a terse reply. The owl, the same recalcitrant beast as they employed for the previous letter, hooted softly and slid sideways on its perch in his windowsill. Snape's eyebrows knitted together sharply. The owl slid further away.

"Accio owl," he snarled, followed by, "Accio twine." The owl leapt obediently into his palm. It blinked up at him balefully; he sneered at it and unwound a section of twine. "You drive me to this, bird," he informed it. "If you would do your duty, as you've been bred to do, no one would be required to come up with such ludicrous solutions."

He affixed the twine to the letter with a simple sticking spell and wrapped it around one of the owl's feet. The bird was nearly palm sized to him, being merely some small variety of screech owl—far too small to carry a letter in its beak like most owl post varieties. He wondered if it belonged to Lupin—the man would like something this disgustingly cute—or if Potter's snowy had finally given up the ghost. It was complacent in his hands. Perhaps it, unlike its masters, knew how to accept defeat.

When it was suitably bound with its letter, he released it. The owl hopped awkwardly over to his counter, the letter slapping against the wood, and stared at the jar of treats.

Snape told himself that this was why he used the post office like any sane wizard.

-

-

-

He spent the time between his intermittent customers deep in his small research library. Half a dozen owls had been sent over the course of the day to a facility in America specializing in reproductive magic and another in Sweden. His hand ached from gripping his pen and ink stained the creases of his palm. The drift of notes grew beside him, with things rapidly discarded, scribbled over, and crossed out. Two cauldrons bubbled and blurped behind him, the enchanted spoons stirring in tandem. Books sailed across the room and down from the upper level of the shop's building. A quiet happiness stole over him as the afternoon passed.

By the time it was seven o'clock, Snape had forgotten about the weekend, Potter, dinner, afghans—the entire ludicrous experience. This was ultimately unfortunate, as earlier in the day he had decided it was preferable to tidy this up as soon as possible and had informed Potter to arrive at 7:30 sharp if he were serious regarding the lesson.

He was in the process of testing the viability of the recipe the woman had brought along when the bell rang. It routinely tried to corrode the bottom of the cauldron and only his preventative spells kept him from melting it down in a Longbottom-esque fashion. Something was clearly off in the balance, but he was damned if he knew what it was. The ingredients were particularly obscure, and more suited toward the medieval British wizardry that seemed to only have a hit or miss chance of success even at the best of times. There were less volatile alternatives available. He cursed with heartfelt loathing at the door before opening it.

Potter instinctively took a step back when faced with his expression. "Am I late?" he inquired inanely, pushing up his left sleeve to look for his wristwatch.

"No, you're not bloody late, but you have impeccable timing, as always." Snape turned on his heel and strode back to his workroom, leaving Potter first to gape behind him and then to hurry along. The door slammed shut when it left Potter's hand; Snape cringed. "It is a pity that you are so incompetent, Potter. Prior to your arrival, I had spent much of my day sifting raspberry leaves, peeling roots by hand, and largely having the most miserable research experience of my entire life. If I honestly believed I could trust you to sliver these things in equal portions within a hair of difference, perhaps you could help me and learn something in the process.

"All bloody day," he continued, having led Potter into the workroom, "it's been chop, chop, chop, and combine: melt. Chop, chop, chop, and combine: explosion. This is research when I do it, but undoubtedly no less annoying than watching the first years destroy my classroom on a daily basis." Snape swept the table clean and sent the still-usable remainders back to their respective containers. The books he shelved with the volumes he currently found useful.

Potter cast about for a chair in the workroom and found none save the stool Snape had been perched on in front of his books. He attempted to lean surreptitiously against the wall. He seemed nonplussed by Snape's tirade. "What were you working on, then?"

Snape waved a hand dismissively and proceeded to the cauldrons still full of his attempts. Frowning, he disposed of the contents and cleansed them with a mixture of magic and ordinary soap. "Something for a customer, Potter," he said. "It wouldn't apply to you or to your life."

"Ah," Potter said. "Look, I brought all of the herbs and things—"

Herbs and things, Snape repeated inwardly.

"—so it should go a little quicker." Potter began to unload the 'herbs and things' onto the worktable.

Yes, why call the shop by such a pretentious name as Artemisia Absinthium when it could be Severus Snape's Herbs -n- Things. Snape was forced to adopt an even more grim expression to prevent his lips from twitching. He hated Potter.

The evening beyond that point became a blur of work, barked commands, recriminations, and the occasional prevented disaster. It was not quite as bad as the Occlumency lessons, but then he was not currently being required to rummage about inside of Potter's pea brain, nor was his own being invaded by sticky teenage fingers. When the suggestion arose some previously sleeping portion of his subconscious that Snape may have actually missed imparting knowledge and technique, he silenced it and shouted a bit too much when Potter knocked over a dish of pomegranate seeds, sullying the nearby mound of osthmanthus powder.

Potter nattered while he worked; Snape tuned out the majority of the commentary, fundamentally believing that if Potter's focus was on who went to the nationals last year for quidditch rather than how many times the potion needed to be stirred clockwise before adding two veela hairs, well, then that certainly explained things.

Nattering, nattering... "—and then Ginny said, 'Harry, I'm pregnant,' and I said—"

"What?" The blade of Snape's knife clattered against the cutting board. He attempted to backtrack through the monologue to no avail. "Do you mean to say that the child is yours?"

Potter scooped a teaspoon of pine resin into the mortar to be ground. "No," he said, exasperated. "She came to me because she didn't have anyone else she could trust, then. But people assumed because everyone knew she fancied me in school."

"Trust you to...?"

"Keep her secrets. Ostensibly, I'm Christopher Sirius Weasley's godfather; the rest of the world thinks I'm his dad."

Snape rolled his eyes at the name, but Potter, intent on reducing the resin to a fine powder, failed to notice. "I suppose this calls for more foolish heroics on your part, eh? Rushing out to save the world again so soon?" Snape asked.

Potter's ministrations took on a certain hint of anger. "Well, I would if I had any idea where to start. I don't suppose you still have any 'old friends' who might know who wanted to hurt someone connected with me, would you?"

Snape bristled. "I will have you know—"

"That we're on the same side, just like we've always been?" Potter sighed, setting the mortar aside. He pushed his glasses out of the way to rub his eyes. "I know. I've been thinking about what you said on Saturday—when I said you'd changed and you told me you'd simply gotten old."

Snape resumed his chopping; the leaves beneath his knife were serrated on the edges and required attention to cut evenly without slicing open his own fingers. "What of it?"

"So have I."

"No heroics, then?" Finished with the leaves, Snape emptied them into a small porcelain dish and reached for Potter's mortar. He tipped the powder into a second dish, cleaned it, and added a handful of black seeds for grinding. He pushed it across the worktable.

"No," Potter replied with a sigh, pressing his frustration into the seeds as he crushed them.

Unconvinced, Snape said, "Mmph, perhaps age does bring reason." He refused to consider the potential magical ramifications of this level of emotional overspill while preparation was being done.

"You don't think I'm doing the wrong thing?"

Snape sighed, irritated, and took the mortar from him again. He ground the seeds quickly and efficiently himself, tired of watching Potter waste time. "I think I am entirely inappropriate to use as an ethics gauge," he said. "My house was not noted for its moral standing."

"No," Potter agreed glumly. "I think that's it for the grinding and stripping and whatever else you wanted me to do. What next?"

"Now you begin to combine."

-

-

-

It was well past four o'clock in the morning when they finished. Potter, having no shame whatsoever, had collapsed into the chair typically reserved for paying customers in Snape's office. His glasses lay on the corner of the desk. Snape would be damned if he was going to allow Potter to fall asleep in his shop. Snape was considering prodding him strategically in the shin when Potter spoke.

"Do you think they'll kill him?" he asked.

"Do I think they will kill whom?"

"Christopher."

Snape sank into his own chair after carefully ensuring that Potter was not watching him. It was very late and he had grown accustomed to being in bed by midnight most days. He was tired; Potter had been in his presence for more than eight hours straight and had only rarely ceased to ramble on about some thing or another. He did not know how Remus stood it, but then he supposed both James and Sirius had never been capable of shutting up either. Remus was undoubtedly accustomed to it by now. He sighed.

"Potter—"

He sat up suddenly and fixed Snape with a glare. With one upraised finger for emphasis, he said, "I'm tired of being Harry Potter. I'm expected to fix things for everyone. If I don't step in, I'll fail Ginny and fail the Weasleys, who've been more of a family to me than anyone else, all this time."

"Ah," Snape replied. He was certain he would regret this in the morning. "Do you wish my advice?"

"I wouldn't mind."

Snape drummed his fingers on the desk, pondering. "Wizards are not a typically religious breed, Potter, and yet there are a number of prophecies surrounding your birth and your life—implying that there is some overall fate or plan to the world in which we live. Albus was of the opinion that you were born to give the world hope. Voldemort had threatened the lives and likelihood of survival for many people for a rather long time. You offered them some belief that darkness could be averted, driven back. Someone was immune to the killing curse, which at that time was considered the most fearful thing imaginable.

"You were a figurehead for the side of light, which I know you have always loathed. You were the adversary for the side of darkness. In whatever battle, you were always a primary player. There was no one who did not have an opinion on you, either for or against—"

Potter had lapsed back into his chair. "What about you? Did you hate me?" he asked.

"I certainly wasted an excessive amount of my time endeavoring to keep you alive if so," Snape said tersely. "As I was saying, certainly, after what you have been through, I do not think anyone begrudged you the rest you took afterward. But you are involved, Potter. This is your godchild; this is a girl you—loved—" Snape said it wryly "—in some fashion or another. I think you are obligated to care, both because of commitments you have made to them and because of who you are."

Potter was silent for a moment, brooding. He asked quietly, "Do you ever regret living the way you live, now? Do you ever miss being a Death Eater?"

Snape's expression was cold, devoid of all emotion save the frown that pulled at his mouth. "Do I miss being forced to be party to kidnappings, murders, and rapes? Not particularly, Potter. Would you? Do you wish you were born on the other side of the war?"

"Why did you do it? I've never understood that."

"No, you've never understood atonement or necessary evil. Neither you nor your own godfather grasped my place in all of this, and that was all fine and good. After all, why should I have minded being attacked by one or both of you when I'd been awake all night, risking my life for the people already forgotten and left for dead by the rest of the world? I—"Snape faltered at the look on Potter's face. It was ravaged with grief.

"Yes, thank you for making me feel ashamed on top of everything else," Potter said quietly. He pushed himself up out of the chair and turned to leave

"Don't be an idiot, Potter. Walk away from all of it if you wish to walk away, but make a decision and do it soon."

"Did you walk away?"

Snape sighed. He placed his hands on Potter's shoulders and turned the man to face him. Potter's muscles were rigid beneath his hands. "I walked on. Why do you care for my opinion?"

"Because I respected you—I respected what you did. You got on with your life, and I never could. You made something out of the wreckage after the war, and I just went away and hid in a cottage with someone as broken by circumstance as I was." There were tears in his voice, if not in his eyes. Snape began to suspect that Potter hadn't slept much the night before, or any night since receiving notice about the child.

"It is not too late to try," Snape said, and could not have explained why he bothered to try to sound consoling, nor afterward why he suddenly found himself with Potter in his arms. "Surely, there must be..." Potter was trembling. Snape assumed he must be weeping again, but when Potter pulled away to look at him, his face remained dry.

"Why are you doing this?"

Snape was very tired. "I told Albus I would look after you. If you wish to try to get yourself killed in the name of filial duty, I cannot possibly stand in your way; however, I do believe that you should not attempt to do so in the middle of the night when you have no idea where the boy might be hidden, nor even if this is in fact a kidnapping. He may have simply run away."

"No, I mean why are you touching me? You've never touched me."

Potter's hands were wound tightly in the front of his robes and his forehead lay against Snape's collarbone. Potter's hair smelled very faintly of apples. This was absurd and certainly not what he'd had in mind. "I believe you flung yourself at me when I cautioned patience," Snape said, moving to extricate himself from Potter's grasp.

"Oh, so it wasn't because you wanted to."

Snape could not understand why Potter sounded so disappointed. "Does no one lay hands on you these days, Potter? Enough of a lack that you appreciate mine?"

Potter shook his head and took a step back, bumping into the closed door. He brushed his hands down his t-shirt—living as far out of the public eye as he did these days, Potter no longer deigned to wear robes. "Aside from Remus, I can't remember the last person who touched me because it was me, and not because it was Harry Potter. Maybe Ginny, but that was a long time ago."

"Are you telling me, Potter, that you want my hands on you?" Snape asked, nonplussed.

Color bloomed in his cheeks. "No! God! I—fuck. Look, thanks for the lesson and the chat; I'll owl you." Potter wrested the door open and escaped through it. In the outer room, Snape heard him fumble with the locks on the shop door, curse, and then cast Alohomora. The bell clanged; the door slammed shut. In the early morning light, through the office window, Snape saw Potter hurry down the street. He was clearly lacking the composure with which to apparate.

Snape tidied. The workroom was quite a disaster and required significant effort to put it to rights. By the time it was in a state that he would consider leaving it in, it was too late to consider seeking his bed if he wished to open the shop on time in the morning. Nothing prevented him from taking a day off, but he had a certain reputation to uphold.

As he walked to the little witch's bakery to procure breakfast, he found himself wondering whether he should have kissed Potter while he had the opportunity. That would certainly be an odd turn of events.

The scone of choice this morning was filled with spices and small pieces of caramel. He consumed it without further mishap to his robes. They were still crinkled where Potter had crushed the nap; he smoothed them with a bit of magic.

Shortly before seven that morning when the shop opened, he took up his quill and penned a short note—

Dear Harry,

The primary difference between you and me
is that your scars were always visible, and mine
never were.

—SS.